Golf Gadgets - A Winner & Some Also-Rans

By: Jeff Shelley


[Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series about golf gadgets. Tony Dear will be following up Jeff Shelley's article with his own perspective in the near future.]

There have been thousands of devices created over the decades to improve your golf game. At one point about 20 years ago, there were well over 15,000 videos and books devoted to improvements in putting, chipping, driving, etc. Since then, myriad more DVDs and Internet sites have bloomed, all proclaiming to "having the secret" that will miraculously transform us into better golfers.

And with the advent of high-tech software programs, photo-optic sensors and associated hardware, a plethora of swing-evaluation and enhancement tools have ensued. The market is now awash in phone apps, GPS trackers, standalone analysis equipment and other apparatuses meant to transform hackers into smooth-swinging Rory McIroys.

While golf magazines still devote dozens of pages to swing tips, there are many more gadgets and products related to golf equipment, clothing, gear, courses, turf, and the like.

Some of these have succeeded wildly, while others not so much. Let's take a look at one sublime product, while recalling a few that veered in the opposite direction.

The Swing Whistle

Inventor Hopes to Whistle All the Way to the Top

Quite appealing for its simplicity and cost is the Swing Whistle. Created by a Seattle-area teaching pro, Casey McMullin, the device - priced at $19.95 - is clipped on to the end of a club's shaft as a way to improve tempo through audible feedback.

If one swings too fast, there's a shrill sound from the whistle; no sound means there's no lag in the swing; an early whistle is caused from "casting"; and the ideal swing speed is denoted by a consistent low-toned whistle.

Repeat the swing that elicits the right sound often enough and this muscle memory will be transformed when executing real shots on the golf course. The cool thing about the lightweight, plastic product is that it can be attached to the club before a round to help establish the right rhythm and tempo before teeing off.

Like many inventors, McMullin's "ah-ha" moment came unexpectedly. It happened in 2007 while he was working at Interbay Golf Center - a driving range, nine-hole executive course complex near downtown Seattle. "Interbay had a 'homemade' Momentus-type club that had two iron heads duct-taped around a 6-iron," he says. "As I was having a student swing it, I heard a little whistle from the hosel and the idea was born."

But having a good idea and bringing it to fruition with a tangible product, for many, is the hardest part. McMullin, who now teaches at Harbour Pointe Golf Club in Mukilteo, Wash., north of Seattle, said that process took four years. "I filed for the patent in 2008. The first sales were sometime in 2010. The prototype process was difficult -finding the right blend of plastics to keep from breaking and soft enough to put on and take off easily.

"The finished product looked almost identical to the first conceptual drawings done by my brother Brady," Casey added. "I would get a batch from the manufacturer and I would break it on the first swing - very frustrating. Eventually we found the right mix and off we went. I put the product on my own website and got a few sales."

Actually selling golf gadgets can also be a Sisyphean task. "Marketing has always been the challenge," McMullin says. "Inventing and manufacturing is the easy part; getting the word out is the challenge. When we do trade shows and can actually demonstrate live the effectiveness of the product, it sells very easily. Marketing and advertising is extremely costly and without staying on the gas pedal, the message gets lost."

McMullin feels that once the Swing Whistle finds a niche it might take off. "There are no products like mine that I'm aware of. The big benefit to my product is that you use your own clubs!" he said. "It's small and inexpensive and you try to match your practice swing and your 'real' swing. As an instructor that's always a challenge because people feel they need to over-swing the club to get power.

"It's similar to the 'swoosh' drill, only you actually feel the club and make contact. Proper timing and tempo uses leverage and timing for clubhead speed, not hand and wrist power. There is an electronic version of my product, but it's $400 or more. I am proud of the simplicity of my product; it truly gives amazing feedback about good tempo in the golf swing. If you can swing easy on the practice swing and put it on the ball, you really feel a correct golf swing."

As a full-time golf instructor, McMullin uses it with the golfers he teaches. "I use it with students! It feels like 90 percent of players over-swing the club, and it makes a higher pitch whistle," he says. "I can hear players that over-swing the club from a mile away, it sounds noisy to me. If you can develop that lag and 'whistle' at impact, the golf swing becomes efficient and powerful. People are always amazed where they spend the power in their swing, and the Swing Whistle simply accentuates that moment."

McMullin has some pretty lofty ambitions for his device. "My ultimate goal would be to have an infomercial on the Golf Channel with Fred Couples, the poster boy for tempo, be the spokesman," he notes. "Sales would go through the roof. I feel the product is extremely effective and can help everyone from the beginner to the scratch player work on that elusive thing called tempo. It's all physics."

For more information, visit http://swingwhistle.com.

And in the Other Corner . . .

Blowin' in the Wind

I remember going to a PGA Merchandise Show (for club pros) several years ago. I made it a point to tour the entire Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, passing by over 5,000 exhibitors in two days. I walked up to a sales rep at one small booth that looked like it hadn't been drawing much attention.

"What are you selling?" I asked.

He pointed to some small, clear plastic bags on a stand that appeared to have small white balls in them. I asked, "Are those cotton balls and what are they for?"

He responded, "Yes, they're cotton balls - their used for testing the wind. A package costs $9.95." I replied, "Ooo-kay, good luck this week."

The Goliath of Clocks

Another exhibitor at a Golf Industry Show (for course owners and superintendents) was at the other end of the golf-gadget weight spectrum. Squeezed into this gentleman's 10 x 10 space was a massive clock tower that was least 20 feet tall. I had to stop and ask about it.

"What are you selling?"

"You're looking at it," the Southern gentleman responded, pointing up to the gigantic cast-iron edifice with the massive clock dial.

"How many of these did you bring to the show?"

"Just this one, it's the only one I have."

Before moving on, I learned about its height, weight (10 tons!) and price (nearly $20 grand).

Talk about Negative Reinforcement

Then there's the crotch hook. Sports Illustrated did a piece several years ago about goofy golf gadgets, and the crotch hook - originated in the 1930s - stuck in my mind.

The concept for this medieval device is simple: Fit a round strap around your head and then firmly connect a sharpened oversized fish hook attached to the strap onto your crotch.

The idea: To prevent a golfer from lifting his head in mid-swing. The original crotch hook looked like it was made of steel.

Surprisingly, this concept lives on. For the princely sum of $7.95, you too can purchase a contemporary crotch hook from http://www.thegolfstoreonline.com/p-1411-golfers-crotch-hook.aspx.

The benefits are spelled out in the following bullet points (with my parenthetical comments):

Any golfer can learn to keep his head down (yes, but at what cost)

Improve your golf game - the easy way to keep your head down with the Golfer's Crotch Hook (no kidding, though I'm not sure about the easy part)

Be the talk of your club - show your golfing pals the secret of playing better golf (I'd prefer to maintain a lower profile)

It's new and easy to wear for fun-loving golfers everywhere (especially those into S&M)

Endorsed by leading golf pros the world over (when you see the tour players with the stooped shoulders staring at the ground you'll know who they are)

A Personal Clunker

It must be mentioned that I once came up with a golf product which turned out to be too good to be true. Back when I was writing and publishing golf guidebooks, I had the wonderful idea of diversifying my business by going into golf greeting cards.

So, for $500, I hired a cartoonist to come up with 10 different cards, each of which featured golf-y characters saying what I considered utterly witty, cogent comments that fit pretty much every occasion requiring a greeting card. I printed 1,000 of each. I even bought fancy boxes with see-through plastic tops for folks who relished the complete set (a bargain at $9.95 for all 10).

But because I couldn't afford to have the cards printed in color - a requisite for a product costing $1.95 a pop (it was a specialty item, you know, in the affluent golf-specific market), I bribed my 11-year-old daughter and her friend into coloring in the line drawings to give them some pop. So I bought a bunch of felt-tip pens and had them go at it.

After doing about 50 cards, the two girls became bored and their tinting efforts soon began straying well outside the lines. I "fired" them on the spot, for which they were truly grateful, and commenced the coloring myself. But after completing another 100 of them, I also gave up, too bleary-eyed to continue.

The Swing Whistle's Casey McMullin is right when he said: "Inventing and manufacturing is the easy part; getting the word out is the challenge."

With my Golf 'n Life greeting cards ready to sweep across America, I did some checking into the market. What I found is that Hallmark, American Greetings, Recycled Paper Greetings, and one or two other corporations dominated the industry, and that a small outfit like mine had a snowball's chance in hell of getting his cards into a local drugstore.

So 10,000 cards are now rotting in the crawl space beneath my house. I'm afraid to see what those colorized versions look like now.

Jeff Shelley is the editorial director of Cybergolf.

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